The conversation in the Seahawks' locker room was similar to what was happening all around the league—and a newly assertive quarterback helped the team decide what to do
LAST SATURDAY, as the Seahawks returned to their hotel in Nashville following a morning walk-through, the players were discussing what to do in the wake of President Trump's comments about NFL players' protesting inequality and police brutality. The usual suspects were making themselves heard: cornerback Richard Sherman said his piece, and defensive end Michael Bennett did too.
Then a powerful voice, which had been more moderate, emerged, urging a more forceful protest. Quarterback Russell Wilson believed that locking arms and standing for the anthem, as the team had done last season, was not enough. "It was a surprise, I think even for him," Sherman says.
In the 2016 preseason, in response to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem, Wilson had explained that while he respected Kaepernick's cause, he "loves the flag" and "the anthem is an emotional time for me because I'm so grateful I get to play football." But Trump's comments, describing a protesting NFL player as a "son of a bitch" who ought to be fired, caused Wilson to speak up in a way he hadn't before.
"It was sad to see that," Wilson said of Trump's comments. "There are so many guys across the league who do good things ... without aggression and peacefully. It's a serious issue and it can't be taken lightly."
Wilson's involvement is a significant development in a league in which quarterbacks—the most visible players on any team—have largely stayed mum on the debate initiated by Kaepernick, a QB.
Still, Seattle's locker room was far from united about how to respond to Trump. The players debated for more than an hour after the Saturday walk-through and again with coaches at the end of an extended team meeting that night. Sherman said the discussion pitted some of the team's strongest personalities against one another. "It's a lot of very intelligent individuals, and they all have opinions about what should and shouldn't be done," Sherman says. "Not only that, but you have white people who don't really understand the issues. It's just something they've never had to deal with. So you have to try to get them to understand why we're doing it and why we need them to come along." A quorum including Wilson, Sherman, Bennett, K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas agreed the best response was to skip the anthem and remain in the locker room. They informed the rest of the team of their decision 30 minutes before kickoff.
On Sunday evening, following a 33--27 loss to the Titans, several Seahawks declined to comment on the protest. "They're just like, 'Man, I don't really agree. Just get me somewhere where I don't have to explain myself,'" Sherman says.
Sherman's candid remarks on the racial dynamic in Seattle's locker room underscored a debate happening across a league that is more than two-thirds black. For now, there's no game plan for more protests, though Sherman, for one, says he believes some sort of protest will continue.
"We were not just protesting Trump," Wright says. "We were protesting the message that we can't do certain things and express ourselves in a certain way, that we aren't full citizens."
Says Bennett, "This is beyond a black-white thing. This comes down to what are we going to do as a country, as a world."
"It's dangerous when folks in our country stop respecting the White House and the seat of the president. It's not a good situation."
—Joe Maddon,Cubs manager